It all started with a stomach ache.
I didn’t think much about it as stomach aches are a perfectly normal thing to experience. We’ve all eaten something bad or have been sentenced to hours in the bathroom after a dinner at Taco Bell. It happens to the best of us.
This stomach ache was a little different—more of a deeper, I-did-way-too-many-fake-sit-ups-last-night sort of pain. This prompted me to head to my doctor. She decided to feel around my gut, which really wasn’t the most pleasant sensation I’ve experienced. An endoscopy was performed, which ultimately came up inconclusive. My stomach pain was then written off as chronic Ibuprofen use for my Fibromyalgia pain (what a grand time to be alive!).
I went about my life, but tried to adjust the amount of pain medication I was taking on a regular basis to help my stomach heal. Everything seemed to be getting better until April of 2017. After going to the bathroom, I noticed that the toilet bowl was painted maroon.
Now, this is the part where you will be upset with me. I did the thing you shouldn't do and I waited it out. I know, I know, but hear me out.
I had gone through a journey with my health for a year prior, which I felt put a heavy weight on my family. I was tired of being sick. I was tired of being tired. I was ultimately tired of feeling useless, lifeless, and burdensome. Anyone who suffers from chronic pain will definitely feel those last few sentences as the whole thing comes with a big heaping pile of guilt pudding. I don't recommend.
So, I ignored the next few symptoms that cropped up and tried to stick it out. My quality of life seemed to improve, but there was still a nagging pain every now and then.
A few months later, I was taken to the hospital. Ah, yes, you might have seen this coming. I had not been able to go to the bathroom in three weeks, so naturally, I took a laxative.
That was a bad move... a very bad move.
The pain was so awful that I was sweating and crying, curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor. I couldn't move without being electrocuted with intense, deep pain. It was the first time in my life that I told myself, "I would rather die on the bathroom floor than be in pain another minute." If you've been through this type of pain before, I'm so sorry.
My mom drove me to the hospital after not being able to speak during more of the painful waves. I went straight to the emergency room where I was connected to fluids after violently vomiting by the nurse who was attempting to take blood out of my arm (I still feel so bad, but he's probably seen worse). I was given pain medication and had x-rays, revealing no blockages in my stomach. My mom mentioned that I had experienced heavy bleeding, which prompted a drugged-up me to chime in with, "My butt period!!" and our doctor assured us that I most likely had an internal hemorrhoid rupture and to eat more fiber.
Eat more fiber.
This seemed like such a simple solution that I couldn't help but laugh. If I had just eaten more dates...
After this episode, things began to settle down again and I was adjusting to living life in the city. I tried a few colon cleanses and other various detoxes to feel better, but nothing seemed to help.
I decided to call my Gastroenterologist and schedule an appointment shortly after. It was a short visit that resulted in scheduling a colonoscopy, endoscopy, and a potential polypectomy. Poly-what-what?
I asked him to explain what this meant, which he then replied, "Oh, it's where we go in and remove an abnormal mass, like a tumor, but in your colon!" My doctor then informed me, while jotting something down on his clipboard, that I most likely did not have any polyps due to my young age. He basically pranced out of the room, off to other patients who were forty years my senior. I left, emailing professors and other individuals to prepare to clear my schedule for the allotted surgery/recovery period given to me by two nurses. I picked up the bane of my existence from my pharmacy: the surgi-prep.
It was the second worst experience of my entire existence, the first being Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears' breakup back in 2002.
I finally went in for the procedure a few days before moving into a new apartment closer to campus. I told one of the nurses that I was going to try to withstand the anesthetic. She laughed and I promptly blacked out. It was quick and I was incredibly drugged up after coming to, but I could hear what was going on around me. My doctor came in, asking how I felt and laughed about something with my mom. I remember thinking, "He didn't call me into his office to speak with me. That's a good thing!"
He then turned to me and gripped the metal frame of the hospital bed. "We found two small masses in your colon, which was pretty surprising. We're sending them in for biopsy."
My first response to this was, "Could I see them?" which was declined immediately. At least drugged me knows what she wants.
A few weeks after the procedure, I had finally moved into an apartment in Richmond's Fan District with a sweet friend and soul sister, Christina. I was stoked and had nearly forgotten about my recent trip to the doctors. My mom and sister came by to visit and drop off a sleeping bag for my upcoming sisterhood retreat. We were sitting in my room, with the window open, when my mom told me I had another doctor's appointment in March. I was confused and asked her, "with whom?" which was met with my Gastroenterologists name. My heart sank.
She explained that the biopsies came back "pre-cancerous," meaning that they had not yet developed into cancer. I was okay, joked about it, and thought I was okay.
I think we inevitably feel invincible when we're young. It's comforting to think, "Hey, I'm twenty-two, eat relatively decent, work out when I can, and have zero family history of any type of cancer; so, I don't have to worry about colon cancer for another thirty or forty years! Sweet deal." Yet here I was, staring wide-eyed at my mom in the middle of my bedroom. Kids played on the swing set outside of my house, laughing and screaming, echoing noise throughout the room.
Before having my follow-up appointment to discuss the future with my doctor, I really didn't know what to expect. It is one thing to hear from a family member, "It was pre-cancerous", then to hear a doctor explain your situation. I asked my doctor some questions that I had and he graciously explained that I had two "high grade pre-malignant adenomas attached to my colon wall" and, within a few years, would have turned into a progressive form of colon cancer. I was told that I was, "very, very lucky" and that I should come in for a checkup six months later. I was in disbelief at first and turned to my mom, "I would have been getting married or having kids when I would have found out," which prompted her to look at me and say, "I don't think you realize that he saved your life; you wouldn't have gotten checked."
It definitely felt more real, prompting a good crying session, alone in my car, in the surgi-center parking lot. I'm a big fan of Grey's Anatomy and there has been many episodes of patients, pregnant or trying to get pregnant, finding out they had a tumor and/or cancer. It was how I associated my situation and that's where I would have been.
It could be so much worse. I could have been diagnosed with cancer. I could have been given horrible, horrible news. I'm not trying to wine or cry or complain, as it's the opposite: I'm thankful and I'm aware. Despite this, having a scare is still relatively terrifying. It shakes the very idea of youth's invincibility. It shook my idea of the basic who, why, what, where's of cancer and health. I thought colon cancer was something I'd have to worry about when I was a grandma, not for the rest of my life.
The purpose of this blog is to not only allow myself to write out my feelings and thoughts on the matter, but to inform more young people that it's imperative to be screened for colon cancer. I don't care if your doctor says that colon cancer only occurs in people fifty and older; this is not always true. If you have any of the symptoms I mentioned having, please contact your doctor. On the contrary, if you have every symptom I had, you might not have the same diagnosis. It's always better to be safe, rather than sorry.